Monday, August 16, 2004

Back to the future?

Toleration is one consistent postmodern refrain. Postmoderns insist that since one cannot know or discern absolute truth, it is not possible to pass judgment on competing truth claims. They also assert that "truth" is comprehended through culture. In other words, Western culture shapes one's perception of what is and what is true. Therefore, according to postmodernism, Christianity's concept of god (not capitalized on purpose) may be just that -- a Western construct. Other equally valid interpretations of god arise in other cultures. The god of Buddhism, Hinduism, or Islam are equally valid given the culture in which those ideas arise. Given these ideas, it is politically incorrect for Christians to see their faith as exclusively true.

Early Christianity found itself in a similar situation. Confronted with Roman pluralism, Christians found themselves in conflict with Roman pluralism. Rome's religious policy required recognizing all gods as equally valid. When Roman armies subdued Rome's enemies, Rome assimilated the gods of the defeated enemy into the Pantheon. Rome recognized those gods as the gods of a specific people. Rome recognized Jehovah as "the god of the Jews" and thus assimilated Judaism into the Pantheism. Rome pronounced unrecognized religions as religio illicita (illegal religions) and prohibited their observance.

Rome persecuted first and second century Christians for various reasons: (1) Christianity was new. (2) Christianity seemed unpatriotic. (3) Christianity was secretive. (4) Christianity practiced unsavory rituals (according to rumors). (5) Christianity insisted it was the only true faith and it was universal. Christianity's claim to exclusivity earned it Rome's venom and recognition as an illegal religion.

Rome tolerated Christianity as long as it appeared to be a sect of Judaism. Persecution began after separation from Judaism. Most church historians recognize that Roman persecution did not begin until AD 64. Roman emperors continued persecution almost unabated until the Edict of Milan and the rise of Constantine. Although the intensity of persecution varied according to emperor and region, Christians died by the thousands because of their insistence that their faith was absolutely true. Roman tolerance extended only as far as individuals and Christian communities were willing to privatize their faith and comply with Roman requirements including recognizing the emperor as a god. While some Christians complied, many more refused to bow before Caesar's bust seeing it as idolatry of the worst form. Christians continued their testimony in obedience to Jesus' commission in direct opposition to Roman policy.

Isn't it strange how history tends to repeat? Christians find themselves in a culture much like that of Corinth and ancient Rome. Postmodernism's loud voices call for tolerance, the abandonment of moral absolutes, and the privatization of faith. Believe what you will, say the Postmodernists, but what is true for you may not be true for me. Sounds pretty much like Rome to me!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

And your church and teachings sound a lot like Galatia to me!